A letter from YAV Anna Gray in Peru
April 14, 2010
Email: Anna Gray
Greetings from Huancayo, Peru, a mid-sized city in the Andes Mountains. As I sit and write, the familiar sounds of thunder and wind compete with the music playing in my office, rain pounds frantically against the windowpane, and a small smile tugs at the side of my face, as I think of the weekly e-mails I get from various acquaintances inquiring about my balmy life in the tropics. So what is my life really like? Scattered, constantly changing, and full of new inspirations, ideas, and projects.
Here in Huancayo, which serves as my home base, I am involved with CEDEPAS, a nonprofit organization. In September I began by working on organic agriculture initiatives, but have since been dragged away from my life of dirt and worms, to work in the human rights sector of the nonprofit. On the glamorous days, I travel around the country with my co-workers, helping with workshops formulated to train and develop peacemaking counselors in communities that were plagued by the violence that ravaged this country for more than twenty years. On the not-so-glamorous days, I translate documents, do accounting, and hole-punch thousands of pieces of paper. My personal record is over 11,000 pieces in one day. Yes, I count.
Although my work with CEDEPAS requires the majority of my attention, I also work with another nonprofit, the Joining Hands Network Peru. Joining Hands has a fair trade program called Bridge of Hope, for which I act as a coordinator between local artisan groups around Huancayo and the principle office in Lima. This work typically entails dusty bus rides, chats with artisans in their workshops about the development and marketability of their products, the weather, and, of course, how I like the food here in Peru.
Only recently have I become involved in what is now my third area of work, an environmental rights project focused on the youth of La Oroya. La Oroya is a small city in the central Andes, one of the country’s most important centers for its prominent mining industry, and also one of the most polluted cities in the entire world. The principle economic actor in the city is Doe Run, a U.S.-owned company. Although its smelter provides a notable means of income for the local population, it also operates in an environmentally irresponsible manner, emitting levels of lead particles that far exceed both international and national limits. Not only has this taken visible tolls upon the natural surroundings — the once-green mountains are now naked and grey — but the local population also suffers from the invisible but deadly affects of the contamination. I am happy to say, though, that while the bodies of the people of La Oroya have been weakened, their hearts and voices remain strong in the struggle for justice. In this effort Joining Hands is working in solidarity with the nonprofit Filomena Tomaira Pacsi to raise consciousness and struggle against the injustice of the contamination.
The issue of La Oroya is a complex one — it involves not only the people of La Oroya, but also the Peruvian government, an American corporation, the international law system, and consumers from all over the world. So what target group are we working with? Elementary aged kids. That’s right — groups of children from La Oroya and New York City who have begun to exchange ideas, coordinate, and document efforts to raise local and international awareness. While these children may not be the movers and shakers of today’s society, they hold the hope for tomorrow, for a cleaner, more united global society in which we truly have joined hands.
This sort of work and life can be chaotic — as of late I have found myself living out of a backpack more often than not, and sleeping in my own bed feels like a special treat. Regardless of this busyness, one of the things that my time here in Peru has taught me is the importance of being. The importance of being wholly present with the people whom I’m in partnership with here. Yes, there will always be e-mails to answer, events to coordinate, and documents to translate, and I am glad to do these things. The true joy, the true accompaniment, however, is found in the small moments of human companionship that transcend the barriers of language and culture. Moments such as sharing a meal, listening to middle-age women complain about varicose veins, or laughing over a cup of coffee. The attempt to be present and to love is the greatest service that can be rendered, and one which must be offered by us all, regardless of where in the world we find ourselves.
To read more about my life and work here in Peru, please visit my blog.
If you are interested in becoming involved or giving financial support to our new project in La Oroya, please contact PC(USA) mission worker Jed Koball.